MILWAUKEE — Ashley Valentine started her career as a schoolteacher but says she couldn’t find enough books featuring diverse characters.
“When Black and brown kids are reading books and they don’t see themselves, it’s hard to imagine yourself in that situation, or in that experience,” Valentine says. "You kind of start to develop, subconsciously, thoughts of ‘this happens to these types of people and it’s not a possibility for me.’”
Valentine wanted her students to get the sense of possibility and belonging that comes from seeing yourself in a story. So, she decided to leave the classroom.
“Black and brown kids typically don’t score as well in literacy, so I thought that I could reach a different subset of students and reach parents in another way.”
And that’s how her bookstore Rooted MKE was born. Valentine offers tutoring and exploration sessions to create a well-rounded literary experience. But she spends a lot of time finding and filling her shelves with titles like Harlem Grown and All Boys Aren’t Blue. She has books for all ages, especially young readers.
“Typically kids who have a love of reading start that love of reading really early,” Valentine says. “Making sure that you build those connections really early on helps make sure that they kind of stick with it and then their love of reading grows as their selection of books grows as well.”
Those skills are more than just a pastime – they’re vital to everyday life. Being able to read at grade level is an important indicator of whether a child will graduate high school.
“As we know, kids who don’t read well as kids grow up to be adults who struggle to read and I think that interferes with your confidence and your ability to navigate society and interact with people,” Valentine says.
But parents can help their kids build that confidence by practicing reading together. That can be signs and labels while you’re running errands or one-on-one story time at home.
“Reading is an experience and if you’re able to enjoy that experience with the people who are closest to you and who you feel safe and supported by, then it definitely makes things easier.”
Valentine isn’t the only one supporting early literacy skills in Milwaukee. Our 'If You Give a Child a Book' campaign is an opportunity for you to help children in our area develop strong reading skills. You can donate until the end of September – proceeds will benefit the Next Door Foundation. Every $5 raised buys one book.
Text 4BOOKS to 345-345 or head to our website.